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One self-evident fact in the grand narrative of Los Alamos National Laboratory has to do with its role in making the weapon that brought an end to World War II.
But that world-saving assumption, so rarely examined because it’s so obvious, was roughed up last week by a revisionist historian who mounted an assault on a vulnerable piece of conventional thinking.
Independent scholar Ward Wilson, who spoke at a meeting of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security, was careful to say that he was not arguing about the morality of the bomb or the bombing, that is, whether the attack could have or should have been avoided, doubts that began to surface in the ’60s.
Wilson’s concern rather marks a more recent interpretation of the question that began in the ’90s with new documents from the archives of the three powers involved – the Japanese, the Soviets and the U.S. This newer debate asks whether the atomic bomb was an effective weapon.
Was it, Wilson asked in his talk, a truly useful weapon, like the newly forged iron weapons that enabled the Assyrian ascendancy in the Middle East from 700-500 B.C.E.? Was its impact on the order of the reflex bow that armed the Mongols’ 13th-century conquest of greatest swath of land in the history of the world?
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